Two new books offer some curious, if indirect, perspectives on lifehacking. Autopilot by Andrew Smart surveys some recent research in neuroscience (particularly the puzzling discovery that our brains seem to be doing a lot of previously undetected work while at rest) to argue that dedicating time to do nothing—literally sitting still and daydreaming—is absolutely necessary if we are to use our mental faculties and stumble upon new and original insights.
To innovate, argues Smart, we must learn how to be idle—at a time when most corporations see idleness as a vice. By Smart’s logic, one way to subvert modern capitalism is to simply get as busy as possible: Your creativity will suffer— and you’ll be not much better than a robot, only far less productive. (It’s also a sure way to get fired!) “Business destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional well-being, your ability to be social,” he argues, as he sets out on a quest to “offer bullet-proof scientific excuses for laziness.”
Smart’s celebration of idleness might seem like a perfect fit with the spirit of the “lifehacking” movement, as both seek to free up some time in our already busy days. Instead, he argues that “technology, for all its advantages, is actually taking away our leisure time” and complains that “we are now wired 24/7.” He also lambastes David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done and a lifehacking role model, for rarely, if ever, asking the obvious question: What if we need so many productivity apps simply because we have far too much to do—and not because we are naturally born slackers?
Another thinker concerned with the 24/7 lifestyle is Jonathan Crary, a distinguished art historian at Columbia University who has just published a book titled, well, 24/7. Crary sees sleep as one of the few remaining areas that have resisted colonization by the ominous forces of that faceless chimera, neoliberalism. “The huge portion of our lives that we spend asleep, freed from a morass of simulated needs, subsists as one of the great human affronts to the voraciousness of contemporary capitalism,” he writes. (Yes, Crary’s prose can be sleep-inducing. In his defense, it’s a book about the virtues of sleep!)
Many fascinating anecdotes and statistics follow. The Pentagon, always in the vanguard of innovation, is spending millions to free soldiers from the burden of sleep altogether. We are almost there anyway: According to Crary, today the average North American adult sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night, compared with eight hours a generation ago and 10 hours a century ago. What’s not to like about Crary’s message? Yes, even you can subvert modern capitalism: by sleeping more! #Occupythebedroom.
Oddly, Crary says nothing about lifehacking—a glaring omission, when one of its many branches, “sleep hacking,” is specifically dedicated to tinkering with one’s sleep. A common goal for many “sleep hackers” is to spend less time in a phase known as “light sleep,” shifting it to high-quality phrases such as “deep sleep” or “rapid eye movement sleep.” (The staying-awake phase right before you fall asleep is prized by Crary but apparently dreaded by many “sleep hackers.”)
Sleephackers go to bed with sensors on their wrists and foreheads and maintain detailed electronic sleep diaries, which they often share online. ...”